Matthew 21:23-32When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Jesus said to them, "I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" And they argued with one another, "If we say, `From heaven,' he will say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, `Of human origin,' we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
"What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, `Son, go and work in the vineyard today.' He answered, `I will not'; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, `I go, sir'; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him."
Proper 21 year A
The chief priests and elders are once again trying to trap Jesus. And, once again he turns the tables on them. He does it with a parable. The one son refused to do his father's bidding and then changes his mind and does it anyway. The other son says he will do it and then does not.
I have a feeling that Jesus was a little like the first son. Remember at the wedding feast in Cana. Jesus's mother says to him that they are running low on wine and his response is, “Mother, it is not my time.” She goes over to the chief steward and tells him to do whatever Jesus says. She knew he would somehow get more wine. She knew her son.
The first son in this parable is like this. I am sure in your life you have come across people who could represent each of the young men in this story. I guess the bottom line for each of us is to ask ourselves which kind of person are we.
Ask yourself, are you the kind of person who goes to church, recites all of the prayers and makes the commitment to be a better person and all of those pledges just sort of evaporate when you walk out the church door. When I look out at our congregation I have to say I don't think any of you are that kind of person.
We are all works in progress. Me especially. We go through life doing our best but occasionally slipping up. I've shared with you some of my own stories of times when I was not acting like a Christian. Am I going to persecute myself for those errors all of my life. No. I have asked God's forgiveness and I received it and I moved on. That is the beauty of Christianity. We each mess up. We feel badly about it and ask God's forgiveness by saying we are truly sorry and we humbly repent. God forgives us. God clears the slate. We move on in life and because we are human we sometimes backslide. God forgives us again and again. Then the day comes when we get it right and the backsliding stops. I would like to think on that day there is rejoicing in heaven.
One of the worst things a person can do is to not ever move on, to not forgive yourself for some sin you may have committed. Forgiving yourself is important. If you believe God can forgive you, forgive yourself. Letting go is important.
This train of thought reminds me of a story.
Two Buddhist monks ( we will call them Frank and Fred) who had taken a strict vow of celibacy are walking along a path toward the city. They come across a stream that's banks are full. Standing by the stream is a beautiful woman who is dressed in the finest clothes. She clearly is unable or unwilling to cross the stream because it will ruin her clothing. One of the monks (Frank) picks the woman up and carries her across the stream and gently deposits her on the other side. She thanks him profusely and continues on her way. By that time the other monk (Fred) crosses the stream and the two monks continue their journey to the city. Frank, the monk who had carried the lady, notices that his companion is unusually silent and looks troubled. He finally says to him, “My friend it looks to me like something is bothering you.” The other monk (Fred) says nothing for a while and then finally blurts out, “You know full well that when we became monks we took strict vows of celibacy. We are not to even touch women and you broke that vow by carrying that woman across the stream.”
Frank smiles at his fellow monk and says, “When I carried that woman across the stream, I left her on the other side. You my friend are still carrying her.”
I have strayed a little from the sermon and drifted into the sermon from two weeks ago but I think the message is important. Forgiveness is important whether it is forgiveness from God, forgiving others or forgiving yourself. It is better to let go of our past mistakes and move on and keep in mind that God walks with us on our journey.